The Samantha Years

Reporter Herald

I got a call the other day from my publicst at Chicken Soup. This was funny because I didn’t know I had a publicist…but what the heck.

Our local paper wanted to do a story on the Blessing Bowl. The article came out this morning. You can read to story below or go to the Reporter Herald and check out my mug shot.

Small miracles fill ‘Chicken Soup’ edition
Local resident recounts a personal blessing for recent installment

By Jessica Benes
Loveland Reporter-Herald

Two nights after her daughter’s memorable first birthday party in 2007, Loveland resident Heather Schichtel sat down to write a story.
The story talked about her daughter Samantha’s seizure-free birthday, how the child had awakened without a problem, her blue-and-yellow daisy dress and her blessing bowl.

On Schichtel’s request, her family had brought things that meant something special, to be put into a special bowl for Samantha.

This day marked the last of a long year of infections, seizures, hospital visits and two emergency trips on a medical helicopter.

The short article, called “Blessing Bowl” recently was published in the book “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings” that was published in November.

Schichtel’s daughter, Samantha, has a mitochondrial deficiency at the cellular level. The disease affects multiple systems, but Schichtel said the exact disease remains undiagnosed. Doctors don’t know which gene is mutated.

Samantha, now 3 1/2, has seizures and doesn’t walk or talk.

She takes medicine and is on a ketogenic diet for the seizures. The fat in the diet controls the seizures, Schichtel said. She’s fed through a tube in her stomach.

The medicine and diet, however, don’t help with her development. Samantha is at the stage of a 4- to 6-month-old child. She does develop, but very slowly. “With us, it’s about the tiny developments we see,” Schichtel said. “She smiled today, she made eye contact with her dad, she had a seizure-free day.”

It’s hard to find a support group for a disease like this, she said. She can’t just go to a Down syndrome or autism group.

She and her husband, Bart, a Longmont engineer, find support in their parents, and once she started to blog, she also discovered another resource — other parents in Colorado like her who have children with mitochondrial deficiencies.

Someone in the group is always at The Children’s Hospital in Denver for one reason or another, and the other parents have made it a habit to bring meals and call.

“We would never have met if it weren’t for this,” Schichtel said. When she visited a friend at The Children’s Hospital, a third friend brought sandwiches. Schichtel offered to pay, and the friend said, “No, next time we’re here, you can bring us something.”

“We’re constantly paying it forward,” Schichtel said.

She finds that writing is an outlet and a good way to relay her perspective on life to the rest of the world. About “Blessing Bowl,” she said, “It was really easy to write. I felt really passionate about it. You know when you have a really good night and you think, wow? Not to be cliche, but I felt blessed.”

Schichtel belongs to a writers group in Loveland. She also writes a blog, which she started during Samantha’s first year of life.

After she’d posted the blessing bowl story to the blog and received a good response, a friend forwarded her an e-mail from Chicken Soup for the Soul, seeking submissions.

She sent the story in, and it was accepted for the November publication.

“With all of this, it’s easy to look at everything and say, ‘well, crap.’ But we try to find each little piece of good and look at that. This has made us more gracious people,” she said.

She has another story that will be published in April in an edition of Chicken Soup for the Soul titled “Thanks Dad.”

Schichtel and a friend are starting an epilepsy support group in Loveland, sponsored through Epilepsy, Colorado. They will start meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Mandolin Cafe, 210 E. Fourth St. They will meet the second Tuesday of the month and are open to parents who have children with epilepsy and adults who have it. For details, e-mail Heather at Also, visit her blog at

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